Q&A: Sen. Mohamed Calls on Youth Engagement

One Minnesota lawmaker wants to get younger people politically involved, even before they are eligible to vote.

Sen. Zaynab Mohamed
Sen. Zaynab Mohamed

Sen. Zaynab Mohamed (DFL, Minneapolis) co-sponsored the Democracy for the People Act, which allows teens as young as 16 to pre-register to vote. Part of Mohamed’s motivation is for youth to engage in community and have their voice heard. Mohamed was propelled into government by the murder of George Floyd, and sees herself as a strong advocate for all Minnesotans, pushing for equal rights and opportunity.

ThreeSixty reporter Jamad Jama sat down with Mohamed, Minnesota’s youngest legislator to discuss this new law and how it relates to young people.

ThreeSixty also interviewed Rep. Emma Greenman, an author of the Democracy for the People Act.

What was your level of engagement during your teens and how did this inform your position now?

I was not fully engaged in politics, but I was engaged in my community. I was involved in my local mosque and community centers throughout my area. However, when 2020 happened and George Floyd was murdered, that sparked something in me and made me want to show up for my community, being from south Minneapolis. Realizing we need voices at the table who truly understand the impacts of police violence, the criminal justice system, and the struggles that our unhoused community faces made me want to get more involved.

What motivated you to get personally involved in the Democracy for the People Act?

I heard about the act when I started here, and a colleague of mine from the house reached out to me because he was carrying the pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds. Being a younger person, I was wondering how we could get young people to understand the importance of voting and engaging in that process and pre-registering, so I helped carry that bill.

Why is it important for young people, especially those of color to get civically engaged when they feel many issues don’t affect them?

For young people of color, every issue affects them. When we think about issues in terms of, “These things don’t affect my community, I won’t get involved,” we need to realize if we’re not at that table, then other people are making decisions about us and our lives. It’s really important to know that young people are at the center of the issues that are happening in our communities. They are the first ones to vocalize when something is happening and are engaged and ready to speak up about it against the odds of what the political landscape looks like. 

When you were passing this act, did you face a lot of backlash?

A little bit from the other side of the aisle, I think there was a misunderstanding about whether underage people can vote or not. The answer is no, but they can and should pre-register so that when election day comes, they are ready to vote. In Minnesota, we’re privileged because we have same-day registration, but this isn’t the case for other states.

How can young people get involved in their government when they don’t know where to start?

If you’re in high school and you’re interested in getting involved in your government, it’s important to join your community events. There are always so many things happening in our community that young people don’t realize because they are in school all day and in after-school programs. Also, reach out to older people in your community and ask them, “How can I become more engaged in my community?”

Jamad worked with retired journalist Bill Wareham, MinnPost Managing Editor Harry Colbert Jr., and North News Editor David Pierini to finish her story. This story was completed at ThreeSixty’s Winter News Team: Capitol Edition in February 2024, where high school journalists covered important legislative issues, impacting Minnesota youth. Read more stories here.